Olives, winter greens, and a sherry vinagreta top Contigo’s citrus salad.
We asked and Via readers responded with hundreds of delightful restaurant ideas to tickle a traveler’s taste buds in California, Oregon, Nevada, Idaho, and Utah. Picking a few dozen proved to be a delicious challenge.
Le Pigeon Portland
“Without a doubt, there is no better restaurant in town,” writes Mora Chartrand, a reader from Portland. Whether you agree or disagree, there’s no disputing the broad regional acclaim for this Central Eastside jewel box: In our restaurant survey, more than half the recommendations for Le Pigeon came from readers outside Oregon.
The restaurant owes its charm to its intimate setting, with just a few communal tables, plus coveted seats surrounding the open kitchen. “Sitting at the counter and watching the cooks work their magic is entertainment all in itself,” Jane Tunks Demel says. “But then you get to eat the food,” including quirky fare such as the signature foie gras–caramel profiteroles.
Erin Archuleta praises chef Gabriel Rucker’s “whole-animal cooking” and applauds the inclusive menu: “There’s a nightly dish for vegetarians.” 738 E. Burnside St., (503) 546-8796, lepigeon.com.
ReADeRs ALso Love
Mustards Grill Napa, Calif. Heading out of Yountville on Highway 29, you’d never imagine that this low-slung building—a self-described “truck stop deluxe”—houses one of Napa Valley’s most enduring destinations. “Must-try dishes are crispy calamari and crab cakes,” Brian Uyesugi suggests. “But my all-time favorite is the Mongolian pork chop.” mustardsgrill.com.
Passionfish Pacific Grove, Calif. This local spot features sustainable seafood that draws raves for both taste and visual appeal: “The kitchen serves the most delectable dishes—a feast for the eyes,” Mary Baribeau says. According to Marlene Bracali, “The scallops are amazing and silky.” passionfish.net.
Bouchon Bistro Las Vegas The Parisian grand café reaches glamorous heights at Thomas Keller’s outpost inside the Venetian. “The food has authentic French flair,” Dedra Rodrigues says of the menu of classics: steak frites, croque madame, and a glittering plateau of shellfish. bouchonbistro.com/lasvegas.
Sybaris Bistro Albany, Ore. An upscale spot in a bucolic Willamette Valley wine country town, Sybaris “serves creative, delicious food using local meats and seafood, area wines, and vegetables from nearby Saturday markets,” Patti McNeff writes. “Walk or drive, wear jeans or an evening gown—it’s always wonderful.” sybarisbistro.com.
Chandlers Prime Steaks Boise This clubby space inside Hotel 43 is beloved as much for its swanky scene as for its high-end beef. “Superb food and an atmosphere where you can enjoy the music or a quiet conversation,” Terry Fitzgerald says. If you’re in the mood for cocktails, “the 10-minute martini is a must,” Julie Ford writes. chandlersboise.com.
Ahwahnee Dining Room Yosemite National Park
There’s no place like the Ahwahnee, “one of those grand national park lodges built to mirror the majesty of their surroundings,” April Anderson writes. “The dining room is magnificent, with soaring ceilings and huge windows, and the food is simply wonderful.”
You’ll find no campfire grub here. Dinner might include burrata and figs on a bed of radicchio, followed by steelhead trout medallions in a beurre noisette, all served on fine china. Come for Sunday brunch and soak up the breathtaking park views by daylight. You’ll also enjoy a seafood bar, carved prime rib, and blintzes with seasonal fruit compote.
If you find you’ve overindulged, “Take a hike or a leisurely stroll along any of the trails within the valley,” Anderson suggests. 1 Ahwahnee Dr., (209) 372-1489, yosemitepark.com/ahwahnee-dining-room.aspx.
ReADeRs ALso Love
Moss Beach Distillery Moss Beach, Calif. Visitors come for fresh local seafood, spectacular ocean views, and one very special guest. “You might catch a glimpse of the resident ghost, the Blue Lady, walking along the seashore,” Amy Rodrigues says. mossbeachdistillery.com.
Eklecticafe Moab, Utah “You’ll drool over the red rock mesas,” Celia Alario writes, “then find a mouthwatering menu at the best breakfast spot in town.” Specialties include green chile huevos rancheros and a knockout Reuben sandwich. (435) 259-6896.
The Boat House Bodega Bay, Calif. This roadside shack is best known for “fresh fish-and-chips and clam chowder,” Julie-Ann Hill says. Kim Ngo adds, “It’s a must-stop place for lunch when visiting the Sonoma coast.” (707) 875-3495.
Tidal Raves Depoe Bay, Ore. “Stunning views of the ocean from every table, great service, and memorable food,” Rose Mignano writes. “I drive miles out of my way just to make sure I get to eat there,” Marilyn Firth says. tidalraves.com.
New Sammy’s Cowboy Bistro Talent, Ore. James Beard Foundation Award semifinalist Charlene Rollins and her husband, Vernon, run this spot outside Ashland serving “imaginatively prepared food like green-garlic custard with morels,” Tod Davies says. (541) 535-2779.
Golden Steer Steak House Las Vegas
Not much has changed at this off-Strip Vegas haunt since Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra were regulars.
“Walk through the door and you are instantly transported to the 1960s,” Michael Mathews writes, praising the “attentive, respectful service.” That polish comes with practice: Some Golden Steer waiters have been tossing Caesar salads tableside for more than 30 years.
“The steaks are the best in Las Vegas,” Mathews says. And yes, the menu still features classics such as oysters Rockefeller, clams casino, escargots, and veal parmigiana, as well as epic cuts of beef just like Ol’ Blue Eyes used to order. 308 W. Sahara Ave., (702) 384-4470, goldensteersteakhouselasvegas.com.
ReADeRs ALso Love
Duarte’s Tavern Pescadero, Calif. A rustic spot that has served diners “for more than 100 years,” Margie Nowland says. Like many, she recommends the famous artichoke soup “followed by a slice of warm olallieberry pie.” duartestavern.com.
Adolph’s Restaurant Park City, Utah Serving up Continental dishes such as steak Diane and duck à l’orange, “Adolph’s has been a fixture since the 1970s,” Jeanie Kutcher writes. “Most nights you can find chef Adolph Imboden in the kitchen.” adolphsrestaurant.com.
Marin Joe’s Corte Madera, Calif. This 60-year-old Italian steak house remains as popular as ever. “Sometimes the wait seems long, but it is worth it,” Ernest Giono writes. “Veal scallopine sec is one of my favorites.” marinjoesrestaurant.com.
Helvetia Tavern Hillsboro, Ore. This venerable roadhouse off Highway 26 features “the juiciest burger in the world,” Walter and Susan Bain write. “It’s big enough for two to share... but you won’t want to!” helvetiatavern.com.
Contigo San Francisco
Specializing in the foods of Spain’s Catalonia region, Contigo draws guests to its modern dining room and covered heated patio from far beyond its Noe Valley environs. Each night’s menu highlights Barcelona-style pintxos (tapas) “kind to both your palate and your pocketbook,” Mark Morris writes. Genie Gratto recommends “larger plates for sharing, a fabulous wine list, and beautifully crafted desserts.”
The seasonal menu features ingredients from the patio garden supplemented by local farmers’ market produce. “It’s a delicious tour of Spain by way of Northern California’s farms,” Sean Timberlake writes. 1320 Castro St., (415) 285-0250, www.contigosf.com.
Modern Hotel and Bar Boise
Put aside your outdated notions of hotel dining. Boise’s hippest place to stay is also home to one of the city’s most intriguing and stylish restaurants. Housed in a Linen District midcentury modern structure—an old Travelodge remade to 21st-century boutique hotel standards—the Modern’s dining room serves architecturally spare plates of seasonal fare: grilled polenta with wild mushrooms, Idaho trout with rutabaga puree, and a classic tarte Tatin for dessert.
Drinks here earn national attention: the New York Times praised the summer menu’s Guadalajara Sour. “They’re renowned for their specialty cocktails,” reader Mary Glen writes. “But it’s the food that has earned our loyalty. Sophisticated, creative food comes out of the small kitchen” remade from two hotel rooms. 1314 W. Grove St., (208) 424-8244, themodernhotel.com.
ReADeRs ALso Love
Mississippi Marketplace Portland On a corner in the funky Mississippi-Williams district, you’ll find a “wonderful symbiotic relationship of food carts and a restaurant,” Alice Swanberg says. “Carnivores can have Miss Kate’s fried chicken on a biscuit, vegans can enjoy mac-no-cheese from Homegrown Smoker, and everyone can gather to drink imported German beer at Prost.” missmarketplace.com.
Great Full Gardens Reno Located in an unremarkable MidTown shopping center, this health-minded café has sprouted a dedicated following. “The creative menu offers items for every appetite, including gluten-free and vegan options,” Heidi Littenberg writes. greatfullgardens.com.
Party Downtown Eugene, Ore. This food cart favorite made the leap to brick and mortar last year, serving up “a menu full of interesting renditions of familiar dishes, such as pad thai with pork-skin noodles,” Sarah Kleeger writes. partyeugene.com.
Wood Tavern Oakland
On a tree-lined street in the Rockridge District, a warmly lit spot beckons sidewalk strollers from behind its wall of windows. It’s the kind of restaurant every neighborhood needs, casual and cozy enough to slip into for a midweek meal, but with the sophisticated food and service you’d expect to find downtown.
“Great service, great ambience, and wonderful staff,” Julie Ryan writes, summing up Wood Tavern’s charms. Julie Fwu calls it “classy but unpretentious.” Well-loved menu items include hearty pastas and meaty entrées. “Try the bucatini, the lamb Bolognese over fresh pappardelle, or seared Maple Leaf duck breast,” Fwu suggests. Cocktails are another strong suit: Come summertime, the bar “makes the best watermelon martini ever,” Nancy Balbiani says. 6317 College Ave., (510) 654-6607, woodtavern.net.
ReADeRs ALso Love
a Cena Portland This authentic Italian restaurant draws diners to Portland’s Sellwood neighborhood. “The chef visits Italy yearly” for inspiration, Alan Fibish says, and the menu changes seasonally. “Homegrown tomatoes and foraged mushrooms might be on offer when you visit. Try the fried artichokes—try everything!” acenapdx.com.
Ichi Sushi San Francisco Does this friendly restaurant on the edge of Bernal Heights serve “the best sushi outside Japan”—as Justin Pirie suggests—or simply the finest in San Francisco, as other readers wrote? Michael Downing joins many to praise Ichi’s “amazing omakase with unique flavor combinations and deliciously fresh fish.” ichisushi.com.
Jackson’s Corner Bend, Ore. This Old Bend storefront does triple duty as a diner, market, and locals’ clubhouse. “Inspire your taste buds while you reignite your sense of community,” Sara Warren says. Em and Grace Lemmon suggest “the blue cheese salad, pasta Bolognese, and special hamburgers on Thursday nights, all made with local ingredients.” jacksonscornerbendor.com.
Red Iguana Salt Lake City
The squat brick structure facing a busy Rose Park boulevard may not look worthy of a culinary pilgrimage, but it’s almost impossible to miss. If the bright red-and-yellow paint job didn’t grab your attention, then the hungry crowd surrounding the door probably would. “A great place for hot stuff,” Ken Caye writes. “The only problem is the line.”
Erin Crawford agrees: “It may take 45 minutes or an hour just to get in, but it’s worth the wait. Red Iguana has the best Mexican food—better than any other place around.”
The family-owned restaurant is renowned for its complex moles. The menu features seven varieties, from chocolate-kissed mole poblano to pumpkin seed–based red pipián. You’ll find regional plates such as Yucatecan cochinita pibil, fish veracruzana, and steak tips a la norteña, plus a full roster of Mexican American classics: tacos, burritos, nachos, and more. 736 W. North Temple St., (801) 322-1489, rediguana.com.
ReADeRs ALso Love
Hula’s Island Grill Monterey, Calif. The vibe is vintage tropical vacation, with tikis and bamboo galore, at this spot located a few blocks from Cannery Row. “Try the killer mai tais, sweet potato fries, spicy seaweed salad, and Kingston crab curry,” Emily Nicholl recommends. hulastiki.com.
The Armenian Gourmet Sunnyvale, Calif. A Silicon Valley fixture for nearly 40 years, this homey café offers Mediterranean fare along with a warm welcome. “You feel like a friend coming for a home-cooked meal,” Karen Melikian writes. Gary Krikorian recommends “lentil salad, lahmajun (stuffed pizza), and lulleh kebab.” thearmeniangourmet.com.
Sol Food San Rafael, Calif. This Marin County hot spot “dishes up mouthwatering, home-style Puerto Rican meals with rice, plantains, and beans,” David Leipsic writes. There’s always a line, but Leah Tramontini says, “The wait is well worth it, and I feel like I’m on vacation.” solfoodrestaurant.com.
Gino’s Italian Ristorante & Bar Meridian, Idaho At a small-town charmer near Idaho wine country, “Gino himself visits each table,” Margy Kane writes. Renae Hoff recommends “the fresh bread and dipping oil, the caprese salad, roasted asparagus, and beef carpaccio.” (208) 887-7710.
Photography by Anita Crotty (Contigo); courtesy of Ahwahnee Hotel (Ahwahnee Dining Room); Robbie McClaran (Le Pigeon); Anita Bowen (Wood Tavern)
This article was first published in March 2014. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.